Team Israel continued to shock the world and defeated a well-regarded Cuba 4-1 Sunday in the first quarterfinal game of the World Baseball Classic at the Tokyo Dome.
The win brings underdog Israel's record in the tournament to 4-0. Israel next faces the Netherlands at 12:00 P.M. Monday (Israel time).
Cuba, with its rich baseball history and a national team that has medalled in all five Olympic baseball tournaments, was first on the board, after slugger Alfredo Despaigne drove a solo home run to left-center in the second inning. This was Despaigne's third homer of the tournament, making him the all-time WBC home-run leader.
Israeli catcher Ryan Lavarnway, awarded MVP for Pool A last week, dug Israel out from behind the 1-0 deficit in the fourth after driving Ike Davis home with an RBI double. Israel added two more runs in the sixth and finally sealed the deal with a run in the bottom of the eighth.
Israel starter Jason Marquis pitched 5 2/3 innings. Manager Jerry Weinstein said about the decision to pull him that Marquis "had a lot left in the tank but we liked the match-up better to bring Zack Thornton in, and Thornton proved us right and did a great job." Thornton will be credited with the win. White Sox reliever Brad Goldberg came in for Thornton.
Closer Josh Zeid pitched four outs for the second save of his WBC journey. All three Israel relievers remained under the pitch count and will be eligible to pitch against the Netherlands on Monday.
The win over Cuba gives Israel a strong mental boost ahead of games against the Netherlands and host Japan to advance in the quarterfinal round, which is played as a round robin. One win in those two games could be enough to bring Israel to Dodger Stadium for the semifinals.
Israel beat the Netherlands 6-5 in the final game of the previous round, although by then both teams were assured quarterfinal berths and were playing for bragging rights.
Underdog Israel's success to date, a national team representing a country that has little national baseball culture, sweeping its bracket in the last round has surprised many, but apparently not team Israel itself.
Embracing tournament rules that allow any player who is eligible for citizenship to represent a country, Israel cobbled together its team from Jewish American baseball players. The Law of Return grants citizenship to any Jew who requests it.
However, ranked as far down the table as they are based on previous performances, team Israel has ten players with Major League experience. All its members are professional baseball players.
Weinstein rebuffed critics who have called Team Israel really a second Team USA. "The attitude in our clubhouse is we are representing Israel. We are not the Junior Varsity team for Team USA. We are Team Israel, and make no mistake about that."
After Sunday's win, starter Marquis noted "We have quality baseball players on this team; guys who have big league experience, a lot of young prospects who have bright futures, and a good mix of veterans who can help these guys through these tournament games."
Marquis did revel a little in becoming a role model in the United States. "It's a great story for people back home who follow the game and who are in our shoes - have Jewish heritage - to look up to players like us who may not have otherwise had that opportunity."
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